Growing Battle Over Swaddling

Wrapping a baby like a burrito faces surprising scrutiny with three states and counting seriously discouraging the practice.


There is a battle brewing about a staple in parents' baby-care arsenals: swaddling.

Swaddling is now illegal in child care centers in Minnesota and strongly discouraged in Pennsylvania and California facilities, reports. A safety organization for day-care providers came out against swaddling over concerns about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and hip development in infants, and cases of babies not sleeping on their backs as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), according to the article.

In December, Minnesota made swaddling illegal in day care centers after child care regulators found "an increase in licensed in-home day cares over the past decade. And that the number of deaths has nearly doubled in the last five years," according to an online report from the Star-Tribune newspaper.

So the state toughened up penalties for those care facilities that violate safe sleep standards and has taken an across-the board stance that all blankets are risky. The Minnesota law specifically says "a sleeveless well-fitted blanket sleeper is recommended. ...Swaddling should only be to comfort and calm an infant up to age 2, but not to sleep."

However, the routine of wrapping an infant in a light blanket so that he or she feels snug is an ancient practice. In fact, Fit Pregnancy has reported previously on multiple studies showing that swaddling your newborn may help him or her wake up less at night, sleep for longer spans and calm crying.

Baby sleep expert Harvey Karp, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at USC, strongly disagrees with the bans. "This is a misreading of the science," Karp says. "It is important in the first months of life, it increases sleep and reduces crying, and the AAP agrees. The benefits of swaddling help prevent postpartum depression, marital conflict, shaken baby syndrome, breastfeeding failure. These new regulations will confuse parents all across the United States and lead to more crying babies, exhausted parents and serious complications."

Karp emphasizes that it's important to learn how to swaddle safely, even for people who take care of your children. "Day care workers have to learn CPR and first-aid — they should also learn how to swaddle," he said. When it comes to parents and swaddling, Karp likens it to them using car seats. "You need to learn how to use a car seat because when they're not used correctly, car seats could be a projectile object in an accident. And yet, parents still use them every day. It's the law even though we don't use them correctly 100 percent of the time," he said.

Our Wrap Your Baby Right page shows you four tips to avoid when swaddling. We also give you step-by-step photo instructions on how to wrap up your little one like a burrito safely.